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Sharing the sacred gift of life

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Jake and Gina

Feb. 14 is not only Valentine's Day, it is National Donor Day. This day has a special meaning for me.

On Nov. 7, 2010, my son Jake died very unexpectedly. He was 13 years young when his life ended tragically. Jake's grandfather had previously received a heart transplant from a donor, and I knew that as a result, Jake was in favor of organ donation. Knowing his thoughts on this sensitive topic made it easier for me to consent to allow my child to be an organ donor when I was approached by the organ sharing network on the day of his death. As a family nurse practitioner, I was well aware of the benefits of organ donation, but when faced with my own child being a donor -- it undoubtedly stopped me in my tracks. My prior conversations with my son regarding organ donation came to me, and the decision to consent was then made simple.

He lived his life as a magical boy, full of hopes and dreams, always willing to give. For Jake, the ability to be an organ donor allowed him the opportunity to continue giving in his own way.

In spite of my personal grief, I continue to find solace in knowing that his generous spirit continues on through his ultimate gift.

An average of 68 organ transplants are performed every day in the United States. A single donor may save or enhance the lives of up to 50 people. Approximately 28,000 patients begin new lives each year thanks to organ transplants. On average, 106 people are added to the nation's organ transplant waiting list each day -- one every 14 minutes. More than 121,000 people currently are waiting for organ transplantation, with thousands more in need of tissue and corneal transplants.

Why donate? Because you may save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance many others through tissue donation.

Last year alone, organ donors made more than 28,000 transplants possible. Another one million people received cornea and other tissue transplants that helped them recover from trauma, bone damage, spinal injuries, burns, hearing impairment and vision loss.

Unfortunately, thousands die every year waiting for a donor organ that never comes. You have the power to change that.

Becoming an organ donor is easy. You can indicate that you want to be a donor in the following ways:

• Register with your state's donor registry. Most states have registries. Check the list at OrganDonor.gov.

• Designate your choice on your driver's license. Do this when you obtain or renew your license.

• Sign and carry a donor card. Cards are available from OrganDonor.gov.

• Tell your family. Make sure your family knows your wishes regarding donation.

As you consider the choice to be an organ donor, think of my courageous son Jake, and choose donation.

Gina Justus, APRN, is a family nurse practitioner at Delta Urgent Care.

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